When the announcement for Starfield hit the airwaves, like many other passionate fans of the space-faring genre, it felt as if my dreams of virtual exploration were about to be realized. My imaginary spaceship was poised, engines revving, ready to jump into the vast expanse of the last unknown frontier. The only thing that could seemingly dampen my elation would be the unlikely: a failure in the implementation, what I’d they failed to live up to the ambition? Fortunately, they game, while no masterpiece, has done quite a bit right but there is one major piece of technology missing.
In Starfield, we have a future so advanced that faster-than-light (FTL) travel is a basic part of every day life. We flit between celestial bodies as casually as if we were moving between rooms in a house. We inhabit space stations and colonize far-flung worlds with the nonchalance of summer vacationers seeking rental cabins in remote wilderness locations.
Despite these technological marvels, I’m here to discuss something that has been gnawing at me as I traverse the cosmos: how is it possible that in this high-tech world, I cannot make a call to someone across the stars, yet I can pilot a craft to their physical location with relative ease?
The video game conundrum of high technology, space exploration, and yet somehow archaic personal communication systems is a particular pet peeve of mine. I find myself, in this utopian future, trekking across galaxies to deliver messages to allies, quest-givers, and all manner of NPCs (non-player characters). Once the delivery is done, I hop back in my spaceship to make the return journey, bringing their responses with me. It feels far from immersive; instead, it calls to mind the Pony Express of yesteryears, carrying information to far reaches with no technology to aid in the expedition.
In many games, stumbling unintentionally onto a tangent adds flavor to exploration, turning what could have been a linear, uninteresting task into an enriching experience. Starfield alas leaves no room for such serendipitous detours. But the ability to wander off designated quest lines in Starfield is severly restricted. Indeed, you’d imagine in a game like this, where the universe is your playground that such flukes would be aplenty. But no, the journey is surpisingly unterprising. Why? Because this ‘open-world’ is simply a sequence of cut scenes and point-to-point space jumps.
The game’s plot guides you on a prespecified route. There’s little fulfillment of that innately human desire to explore the unknown. The marvels of fresh discovery that could birth in your mind a sense of vastness and mystery are fittingly, spaced too far apart.
In the end, the narratives of Starfield’s technology don’t detract from the overall appeal significantly. It is, after all, a beautifully designed game with a compelling storyline and an intriguing universe that has pulled me in, to a degree, but let’s be fair, it’s no Skyrim. Yet, as I propel my spaceship light years across the stars to deliver a simple message, I can’t help but feel like something got lost in translation from our universe to Starfield’s. This type of questing may have worked in a medievil world where you could stumble upon a cave or some secret but in starfield, the journey doesn’t provide any substance and has turned you into a pointless delivery guy when technology should exist to bridge this gap.